Summer vacation is not even half over and I’m already
thinking about getting my kids ready to go back-to school. It’s not that I don’t enjoy their
company; I just want to get a jump-start on my to-do list so that I deliver
them to school ready to learn.
Along with back-to-school shopping, they need their annual physicals and
6-month dental check-ups. Child
health advocates around the country have another major item on their
back-to-school checklists – reaching out to the five million children who are
eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but are unenrolled.
This is an ideal time of year as the media and huge
segments of our population are focused on children’s needs as they prepare to
head back to school. The National Covering
Kids and Families Network (NCKFN) is helping groups leverage the increased attention to
children’s issues during the back-to-school period to help reach enroll
eligible children in state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program
plans. They recently hosted
a webinar to discuss messaging and strategies that work. (Georgetown CCF is providing technical assistance to NCKFN).
Many of the NCKFN participants and other groups have been
working on back-to-school efforts for many years and had a wealth of experience
to share with each other. Some
excellent messages have been developed for groups working on this initiative by
GMMB with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The trick is getting the right
messengers to use the messages to reach families of uninsured children. Many of the NCKFN groups have had a lot of
success working with school nurses, school administrators, social workers,
community outreach workers and teachers. Two participants on the webinar focused on more non-traditional
messengers – school board members and youth sport leaders.
First, Donna Cohen Ross, senior advisor to the Office of
External Affairs at CMS (and an expert on outreach), announced HHS’s plan to
launch a coaches campaign “Get Covered: Get in the Game” which will enlist
youth sports leaders to help find uninsured children and get them enrolled (more details on the campaign to come in August). Coaches are great messengers. (Just compare the sports section to the
health section of your local newspaper if you doubt the ability of sports leaders
to get a message across in your community.) Coaches can pitch a different message to families by linking
the importance of coverage with the ability to compete in team sports. As Donna pointed out, there is a
strong link between good health care and sports as kids frequently are excluded
from school sports participation if they don’t have a physical. Parents are also understandably
reluctant to allow children to participate in sports if they aren’t insured for
fear of an injury that they can’t afford to treat.
As the mother of three boys, I’m involved with my fair
share of youth sports teams and recall one heart-breaking incident when one of
my son’s soccer teammates suffered a concussion during a tournament. I offered to drive him and his mother
to the hospital but she said she didn’t have insurance so she would just wait
to see if he really needed care.
No mother should be faced with that choice and coaches could help make
sure they are not. Good coaches
teach children more than just about sports, they teach them about the
importance of teamwork, perseverance, and hard work and they make sure kids are
doing as well off the field as they are doing on the field. Youth sports participation helps
children learn many valuable life lessons and it is tragic that some children
are unable to fully participate in this aspect of childhood due to the lack of
insurance coverage – especially for those who are eligible but unenrolled in
CHIP or Medicaid.
Second, April Griffin, a school board member from Hillsborough
School District in Florida, spoke about the importance of getting buy-in at the
top. (In other words – cultivating the grass tops as well as the
grass-roots). She pointed
out that school district staff and teachers are stretched thin and are under
pressure to raise test scores.
According to Ms. Griffin, the more groups are able to link children’s
health coverage with school performance, the more successful they should be in
getting the buy-in of school system personnel.
Her message also hit home. A friend of mine tried to get our school district to include
information about our state’s Medicaid and CHIP programs in back-to-school
packets. The school district staff
refused and said it was against school district policy. My friend appealed to a school board
member by pointing out that the school district included promotional materials
of for-profit insurance companies in the packets. The school board member was able to look at the “big picture”
rather than reading a policy manual and gave the staff person the go-ahead to
include the CHIP & Medicaid information in this fall’s packets.
There were a lot more great ideas shared on the NCKFN webinar and I encourage readers to check them out here. In collaboration with the network, Donna Cohen Ross of CMS has scheduled
a second webinar on school-based outreach efforts on July 29th. (All those of you who have read Donna’s posts on this blog or have worked with her over the years know that Donna cares deeply about this topic and you won’t want to miss this opportunity.)